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Workshop by Padma Subrahmanyam
- Sumangala Varun

September 6, 2019

Bangalore dancers were in for a rare experience on the 5th, 6th and 7th of July. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, the doyen of dance, conducted a three-day Bharathanrityam workshop in the city. Urise Vedic Sangeetha Academy in association with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (who was the event sponsor), hosted the workshop that was held in two batches. The morning batch was exclusively for senior dancers and teachers, and alumni of Sastra University, and the evening batch was for dancers who had a minimum of five years training in dance.

All proceeds from the workshop was for the Bharata Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture (BIFAC), the research foundation spearheaded by Dr. Padma and located at Pattipulam, a village in Kanchipuram.

The workshop was packed, with close to a hundred dancers attending. Some of the leading dancers in the city including Mithun Shyam, Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, Anuradha Vikranth, Shama Krishnan, Sujay Shanbaug, Yamini Muthanna, Sneha Narayan, Chitra Arvind, Darshini Manjunath among others were a part of the workshop. Padma Subrahmanyam personally scrutinised the applications for the senior batch, and only those who she approved were accepted and the remaining were referred to the evening session. She taught three items in the seniors' session - a swarajathi in Kamas, Bho Shambho in Darbari Kanada, (which is the original ragam as composed by Swami Dayananda Saraswathi) and Mani noopura dhari, a Raasa Shabdam in Neelambari, an Oothukkadu composition.

For the juniors, Padma Subrahmanyam taught Maamayil meedheriva, a Muruga krithi in Lathangi ragam, a composition of her mother Meenakshi Subrahmanyam and a jathiswaram in Malayamarutha ragam, composed by Padma herself. Her niece-in-law Gayathri Kannan and grand-niece Mahati Kannan assisted her in conducting the workshop.

"All the participants loved the workshop and want us to make it an annual feature," says Anjana Ramesh (director of the dance wing at UVSA). "Everyone felt that the best part of attending Paddu Akka's workshop was the daily interactive session. I felt that for us to learn and grow as dancers, it is important to know about Paddu Akka's history, what were the obstacles that she overcame and how she works."

Karnataka's leading scholar Dr. Shatavadhani R Ganesh joined the group over the weekend and added his wisdom to the post workshop interactive sessions. Mithun Shyam was bowled over by Dr. Ganesh's humility and wisdom. "He is a treasure trove of Vedic knowledge," he says, "My main objective to attend this workshop was the great opportunity to observe Padma Subrahmanyam," Mithun says. "We were able to get a glimpse of how her creative process works. The key takeaway for me was how she turns an idea into a dance." For Mithun, the highlight of the workshop was without a doubt the interactive sessions.

Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam & Dr. Shatavadhani R Ganesh

"I have a policy that I will not perform any of the items that I learn at a workshop.To me, it is more important to learn about the item in all aspects than simply learn an item. For instance, most dancers only know the song 'Bho Shambho' in Revathy ragam. Padma-ji was actually present when Swami Dayananda Saraswathi composed it, so she was able to tell us about the history of the kriti and teach it to us in its original form." Mithun maintains that such workshops are a welcome change in a time where dancers attend workshops only to increase the number of items in their repertoire. "All dancers must seize every such opportunity to learn from and interact with such senior gurus," he says.

Says Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, "For me, attending the workshop was more than learning a few new items; it was a chance to observe how Padma-ji works and choreographs. It was an opportunity to observe her approach to dance, and the nuances in her choreography." Lakshmi feels that her biggest takeaway from the experience was the fact that Dr. Padma is the best of students. "Her level of knowledge is immense, as is her thirst for knowledge. She diligently takes notes wherever she needs to." What stood out for Lakshmi was when Dr.Padma spoke about how dance ought to unite us as a society and not fragment us.

Lakshmi Gopalaswamy

Dance cannot be studied in isolation, said Padma Subrahmanyam. A dancer should have in-depth knowledge about other art forms like music and literature. One piece of advice that Dr.Padma gave the participants was to not be in a hurry to choreograph, as choreography is not something to be taken lightly. She advised the dancers to perform the items that their guru had taught. She said that dancers should respect traditional items.

Geeta Srikrishna, who attended the junior batch, felt that there should have been more time to interact with Padma Subrahmanyam. "Padma-ji made sure she paid attention to every participant, and that everyone got the steps correctly," she says. "We learnt the exact methodology behind how to execute a chaari. Through the interactive sessions we learnt about all the efforts she took during her research. She recounted how she would stand on ladders to observe the sculptures in temples."

Geeta added that Shatavadhani Ganesh's explanation on the dharmic aspects of the dance items were realistic. He also commented on Dr.Padma's growth and evolution as a dancer. He had attended all her concerts during the eighties and remembered every item she had performed.

All the participants unanimously agreed that the workshop was a great experience and are eagerly awaiting Padma Subrahmanyam's return for her next workshop.

Sumangala V Varun is a dancer and a freelance writer from Bangalore.

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